Philadelphia Game Lab is a non-profit organization dedicated to the growth of small-team game development in the Philadelphia region. Our efforts grow from a belief that this is an optimal environment to launch creative technical businesses, and that game development is well-suited to leveraging its strengths. That is not to say that there is a significant game industry presence here. Although talented shops like Final Form and Cipher Prime thrive here, they are not a statistically significant group yet, even if they may be reasonably said to have “proved the point.”
Risks and Benefits
It’s important to recognize that game development at almost any level is a craft-driven endeavor. Unlike entities described under the term of art, “tech startup,” a game development startup is unlikely to position as paradigm shifting. It generally doesn’t need to, because the value and promise it holds is most often in the skills and talents of creators. There is a very different sort of risk involved in investment in games than in tech startups. –And, we’d emphasize that by investment, we don’t only mean financial, as more often the investment is of time and opportunity cost. The risk in games is that the creative vision will be bad, or that as software it will not be functional within the scope of viability. For a small team, the costs are low, but the returns are also likely to be very limited for an extended period, perhaps always. However, if a team manages to produce more than two titles, and to retain more than two members, it is actually likely to provide its members with a living revenue.
Strengths of Game Creation
A further benefit of game creation is that any effort toward game creation is a success to some extent. In small-team game creation, smart and talented people come together to build something that will be the optimal output of their personal abilities. If they fail by not completing development, at least they have learned and collaborated with others they value. If they fail by creating a game that doesn’t sell, they have achieved these benefits, and additionally learned more about what they need to do to succeed. Further, even within small teams, the more people that pull together to work toward a shared vision, the better, and this carries forward into successful game development entities; growth adds hires in games. As an artisanal form, games are inherently oriented toward collaborative learning.
In Philadelphia, which is creatively flourishing, and in the past few years has become a place where young people would remain after graduation, there’s an interesting opportunity. The area never thought of itself as a place that anyone would want to be, and emphasized opportunities in “Greater Philadelphia,” which translates as “the donut around the city no one wants to be in.” This has meant in past decades that creative and technical business have grown slowly here, and primarily in the suburbs. However, now the opportunity is fully in the city proper, but we do not have the career opportunities that would allow young people to remain here. It’s very important to keep in mind that these are people thinking that they would like to stay in Philadelphia, but may have to go to the West Coast for work. An offer to work in the suburbs doesn’t come into their world view. It would not take so much to get these people to stay, but it certainly would take more career opportunity than is currently offered to them. It is core to our mission to work toward enabling this option.